Monday, November 27, 2017

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

After two long days of driving across 1400 miles, we were ready for some adventure.  It may have been a tad out of the way, but we decided on an overnight stay in Palo Duro Canyon State Park (27 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas).

The canyon is thought to be the 2nd largest canyon in the United States.  It is not nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon (only approx. 800 feet deep as opposed to 6,000 feet deep), but it is an impressive 120 miles long and as wide as 20 miles.  Driving towards the canyon it is completely flat and you can see for miles.  We never would have suspected that a canyon lies there and were astounded by the sudden beauty that unfolded.  

We arrived about a half hour before sunset and had no problems getting a campsite (however reservations are highly recommended during their busy season).  Note: You do have to pay the state park entrance fee in addition to the rate for the campsite.  Still, with 2 adults and 6 children, $34 for a night of camping in such majestic surroundings is worth it!

All of the campgrounds are down in the canyon, which is awesome because every direction you look you see the canyon walls.  We stayed in Sagebrush Camp Area which is approximately 2 miles from the front gate.  I'm not sure that we would have wanted to navigate the steep drive down to the campground in the dark, but it sure is beautiful.  The Sagebrush Camp Area offers 30/50 amp service, a picnic table, a fire ring, and is in close proximity to the Pioneer Amphitheater and Trading Post.  

A trail from the campground connects to the Nature Trail, but we found that the trails were poorly marked so we just did a little exploring on our own and then returned to camp to enjoy a warm campfire.  The temperature sure drop quickly once the sun goes down!

We awoke early the next morning to watch the sunrise.  Pictures do not capture how breathtakingly beautiful it is.  Once the sun was up it was time to hit the trails before getting on the road.

We pulled off our site and drove another few miles down the road and parked near Hackberry Camp Area.  

We decided on the Paseo Del Rio trail, an easy 2.06 miles (there and back) trail that follows the river. 

Approximately 1/8 mile into the hike you pass a Cowboy Dugout.  Peak inside for a look into how the cowboys lived in the 1880s.  

We saw a lot of wildlife along this trail, including turkeys and a roadrunner.

It was the perfect length for a quick morning hike before another day in the car.  We would love to return to Palo Duro Canyon State Park for a longer stay and hike some of the other trails, especially the Lighthouse Trail that leads to the iconic Lighthouse rock formation.  

Be sure to follow us on all of our adventures on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures and check out the Travel tab on my blog.  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Myakka River State Park

When we arrived in Florida, PopPop told the girls that if they saw an alligator he would give them $5.  We thought for sure we would see one at Johnathan Dickinson State Park, but when we did not I did what any mom would do and googled "best places to see alligators in Florida".  Myakka River State Park was at the top of the list and was en route to our next location.  It's located just a few miles outside of Sarasota and I-75, but it's natural beauty is enchanting!  Myakka River is not only one of the oldest and largest state parks, it is one of the most scenic areas in Florida.

It is only $6 per vehicle (exact change preferred) to enter, which in my opinion is a bargain for all you get to see here.   Shortly after you pass through the gate you will go over the Myakka River.  

There are some very small parking areas here where you can pull off and walk over the bridge for some great views of birds and alligators.

A little further down the road there is a small picnic area on the left that provided an even closer encounter with an alligator.  Here you can walk right up to the rivers edge and just on the other side was an alligator sunbathing.   Please use caution, especially with young children and pets.  I was surprised to learn that alligators can swim up to 20mph and sprint up to 11mph on land.  

If you continue down the road a little further you will come to the Nature Trail and Canopy Walk trailhead.  We did not see any alligators here, but this is a stop you do not want to miss!  There are tons of learning opportunities here and we honestly could have spent the entire day here with our nature journals if we had more time.  Some of the trees appear to have sustained some damage during a hurricane and are growing in all kinds of different directions. It feels like you are walking through a jungle.  The girls nicknamed the tree above the "Grandpa tree" and are posing like old ladies next to PopPop.  

Like most nature trails, there are signs along the way to tell you what you are looking at.  See the line on the palm trees where it changes from dark to light?  That is the high water line.  

The only type of palm trees here is the cabbage palm (Sabal palm).  Seedlings are fan shaped like palmettos.  You can tell the difference between a young palm tree and a palmetto by looking at the stems. 

The nature trail continues on, but we cut over to the Canopy Walk, which includes a suspension bridge and tower.  It is one of only approximately 20 canopy walkways worldwide!  

Because plant sugars are produced high up by the treetops, many insects, birds, and other organisms that depend upon those plant sugars also live far above the ground.  

The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet to give you opportunities to view life that you may not be able to see from the ground, like the Resurrection Ferns in the photo above, Butterfly Orchid, Ballmoss, and Cardinal Airplant.  There are 16 species of arboreal ants that have been identified.  

At the end of the suspended walkway, a tower takes you 74 feet into the air.  It would have been a good idea to bring binoculars!  

Afraid of heights?  Traveling with pets?  Or just need a place to hang and wait for those that are slower than you?  No problem!  There are several benches at the base of the tower to enjoy the serene surroundings.  

Those who decide to climb will be rewarded with beautiful views of the treetops and wetlands.  

A few of our kids are slightly afraid of heights, but nothing a little Stress Away and encouragement could not take care of.  We all made it!!!  

The sun was quickly making its descent so we had to hurry back to the RV, but this State Park has definitely made our list of places to come back and explore.  With a river, 2 lakes, and nearly 40 miles of trails, there is plenty to see and do here!  

Be sure to follow us on all of our adeventures on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures and check out the Travel tab on my blog.